We often focus so much on the backyard that sometimes we forget that the first thing our guests see when they drive up to our home is the front yard. Here are some hot tips on adding some frontside curb appeal to your home.

Originally featured on Better Homes & Gardens by the BH&G Garden Editors.


The builder’s bit of lawn, two trees, and few foundation shrubs fall far short of most homeowner’s dream landscape. To set your yard apart, invest in streetscaping to add to your home’s current and future value. A pleasant view from the street gives a sense of individual pride and accomplishment that will yield results that last for decades.

Assessing Your Front Yard

The first thing to do when planning a new front yard is to recognize your bias. The satisfaction of returning home and that you see your front yard from inside the house can skew your feelings about how your yard looks to the public. For a more honest assessment, walk down the street, then turn back. Do the same in the other direction. Also, get in your car and approach your house slowly from each direction.

Does your house blend with those nearby? Is it appealing? Distinctive? Does it sit well on the site or look out of place? Does it need stronger horizontal or vertical lines? Does it nestle among the trees? List all its virtues and shortcomings.

When you go to other houses, take note of the convenience of their entryways. Can you easily see where to turn into the drive? Is the drive wide enough for you to open your car door and get out without stepping on plants or grass? Can you easily tell which door to approach? Are walks and steps easily negotiated?

Take what you learn during these studies and carefully weigh your front yard’s planting needs—street trees, trees, and shrubs for framing and accent, flowers, lawn, and ground covers—and its structural needs—walks, steps, drive, stoop, edgings, and fences.

Using Plants in Your Front Yard Landscaping

The architectural features of your yard will be the most expensive and permanent. You may want to plan them in stages: the driveway first, good steps and walks next, porch or fence the next year. Select materials that will add to your landscape, not ruin its harmony. Plantings are easier to install and change, but you’ll want to be sure to put them in the right places so they can quickly play a role.

Trees, Shrubs, and Ground Covers

Trees, shrubs, and ground covers are permanent purchases that increase in both size and value and take little maintenance. You can even use many edible plants to add to your landscape. They present little extra work except for some added time for harvesting.

Flowers

Flowers take care and often require replanting, but they can fill in the gaps until your woody plants gain enough size to stand alone. Annuals—like kochia, four-o’clockstrawflowerimpatiensmoonflower, and angel’s-trumpet—and perennials—like peonybee balm, and hosta—can substitute for shrubs the first year or two.

Lawn

Lawns take the most resources, work, and equipment of any aspect of landscaping. To conserve both fossil and human energy, consider alternatives to lawn, especially in regions where rainfall is inadequate. If your front yard is too large for constant mowing and watering, use mulch or ground covers for islands around trees and shrubs. Fence or mark off an area for turf and use the rest for meadow, pasture, or woodland. Don’t let your front yard make you a slave to more work than you enjoy.

Plant Trees for Impact

Trees (and larger shrubs) are the first components to consider in front-yard design. Because a framed view often is much more attractive than a completely revealed view, give serious thought to planting taller trees on either side of your house and at least one behind it. Trees give the yard and house a look of permanence, and soften the second story or roofline against the sky. If you can afford only one or two mature trees, plant them in the front yard.

Besides providing framing, trees and larger shrubs, along with the buildings, make up the masses in the landscape. Choose and place them for interest of outline, texture, and color in all seasons and for shade and energy control. Harmonize the shapes of the plants—round, pyramidal, weeping—with each other and the structures. Give visual relief by judiciously varying leaf size and shape as well as the textures of structural materials. Trees and shrubs also are good for marking boundaries and separating functional areas.

Raised Planting Beds

Raised planting beds are often used instead of or together with foundation plantings. Build bottomless planting beds deep enough to provide ample soil for root growth and to ensure the bedding soil mixes with the soil below. Because soil in raised beds dries out more quickly than in the ground (and because few plants can withstand full sun plus the heat reflected from house walls), place beds in spots that receive shade for part of the day.

The old rule that the front yard is for the public and the backyard is for fun and family is sometimes better broken. Is your front yard the sunniest in a cool climate? The coolest in summer? On the south side where tender plants and fruit can best survive the cold? The largest part of your yard? Then reclaim some or all of it for private family use. A wall, fence, or sometimes only a small screen can give you the privacy you need.

Plan a Functional Entryway

Pay particular attention when planning your front yard to making your home’s entrance clear and inviting. Use plants and structures to lead people where you can greet them most gracefully. Dramatize the front door with a lamppost, an accent shrub, a trellis to block the rain or wind, or pots of geraniums.

Be sure knockers and bells are evident, at a convenient height, and not hidden behind a locked screen door. The best stoops are large enough for two people to stand on with some cover from the elements and for doors to swing open. A bench here is a great help.

Driveways, too, should be readily visible. A simple, low planting can mark the turn. If trees or shrubs obstruct the view, remove them for safety’s sake. Where curves or slopes are involved, the placement of the driveway on one side of the yard or another can make a marked increase in visibility.

For night arrivals, lighting should mark the turn from the road to the drive, from the drive to the walk, any curves or steps, and the front door.

Your Guide to Front Steps

Make steps as wide as the walks they connect. Steps should be emphatic and noticeable. A plant accent can help. So can a change of texture. Never use just one step. If the slope is that slight, use a ramp. Three steps are the ideal minimum, though two are acceptable.

Check regularly that your steps are safe and not slick in snow or rain. Try to create at least one stepless entrance into your house for wheelchair visitors or possible future or emergency use. Or make conditional plans for a ramp, avoiding any plantings that would interfere.

Using Edges and Borders

Edgings give an important and neat outline to your yard, as well as dramatic contrasts of form, texture, and color. For permanent neatness, build in small concrete curbs; set bricks on edge, on end, or diagonally; lay landscape timbers; stand flagstones or tiles on edge; or install one of the ready-made edgings available in garden centers. Metal or rubber strips are less lovely, but they are inexpensive and serviceable.

Borders of flowers, bulbs, or ground covers can be used with, or instead of, other edgings. Use the plants with the proper ultimate spread and good year-round appearance. Don’t set the plants so close to the walk that they overgrow it.

Creating an Attractive Front

Every house facade and site have visual assets and liabilities. The well-done front yard highlights the pleasing points and masks the poor ones.

All the elements of good design come into play as you arrange your component parts for the ideal front yard. But don’t be put off by the aesthetic terms—balance, scale, unity, and the like—used by designers. All are largely a matter of common sense. If a scene pleases your eye, then it’s probably well designed.

Choose a Theme or Style

If your house needs or will adapt to your desire for a special theme garden like colonial, cottage, Oriental, or Spanish, the look must begin in the front yard. Themes are successful only if you unify all the garden aspects carefully.

You’ll also need to determine if your preference is for, and your site demands, a formal or informal landscape. Formal garden settings include strong geometric lines and architectural features, clipped hedges, and uniformly shaped plants and beds. Informal designs are marked by free-flowing, natural-looking elements. Generally, informal home styles and sloping land require less rigid landscapes. Formal houses and flat land can be treated either way.

Balance Landscape Elements

To achieve balance in a landscape, try to position elements so they give equal weight—through size, color, texture, or other aspects—to each side of a scene. How formal this weighting should be again is dictated by the style of house and personal preference. Symmetrical houses often look best when each feature and plant is duplicated on the opposite side of a front walk (as long as the walk isn’t too long or too narrow). Most houses, though, are asymmetrical, since they have only one garage or drive. In this case, balance is more subtle. Perhaps a tall tree belongs on the side opposite the driveway.

Pay Attention to Size

Achieving pleasant scale—or, keeping elements in proportion to each other—is also subtle, since plants must grow before you can be sure. Choose plants that will complement your home’s size at maturity, as well as some plants that will grow fast enough to quickly make a mark. Don’t let anything dwarf your house.

Keep It Simple

The design principles of unity and simplicity often go together. Several plants of the same color and kind have more effect and give greater pleasure in a landscape than one each of several types. Use only enough variety for sustaining bloom and adding visual interest.